Sullivan County schools go Apple-centric

Rick Wagner • Aug 7, 2013 at 7:31 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s public schools have adopted a five-year Apple-centric technology plan.

Among other things, the plan the Board of Education has approved proposes to put a school system-purchased iPad or other wireless device in the hands of all students and teachers.

A more immediate goal is to get Wi-Fi at all schools in the system by this November.

The program will get a kick-start this year from nearly $500,000 in technology money from the Tennessee state budget, part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s technology initiative, but system technology supervisor Evelyn Rafalowski said she hopes more state and local funding will be forthcoming.

At Monday night’s BOE meeting where the board approved the plan, BOE member Todd Broughton asked if the school system-purchased iPads would be taken home by students.

“Our ultimate goal would be for them to be able to carry it home,” Rafalowski said.

“Therein lies the concern,” Broughton said.

“Hopefully,” Rafalowski responded, “we can meet those challenges.”

The system already has iPads and other devices in various schools, including an iPad program at Holston Middle and a Bring Your Own Device program at Sullivan South. Both began as pilots in 2011-12. Students who don’t buy, lease or have a device can use a school-provided one or, in some instances, share a device with a classmate.

The eight initiatives in the five-year plan are:

• An iPad for professional staff to focus on instruction and professional development

• Instructional technology for all staff.

• Technology-rich instruction.

• Providing students with technology skills necessary for PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

• A 1:1 iPad or MacBook ratio for grades 3-12.

• Accelerating movement to a mobile environment.

• Transitioning from a PC environment to an Apple environment.

• And completion of Wi-Fi infrastructure at all campuses by November.

The state will provide $493,898 in the 2013-14 budget for Sullivan County schools technology. Rafalowski said that money is geared toward providing technology needed for the upcoming online PARCC assessment of how well students in grades 3-12 do on new Common Core standards for math and English/language arts. In those subjects, the online PARCC will replace the paper TCAP or Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests, although paper TCAPs will remain for science and social studies in grades 3-8 and end-of-course testing in high school,

Some Common Core and PARCC pilots are or soon will be under way, with “mini PARCCs” set this year to get students and teachers used to the online evaluations and test the technology, said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning David Timbs.

But both are to be fully adopted in Tennessee starting in 2014-15.

PARCC requires that tablets used to take its tests have keyboards or that computers with something higher than Windows XP be used after the first year.

Rafalowski said the county system plans to buy keyboards for the iPads because it is too heavily invested in Apple products to go back to Windows-based devices.

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